By Nathan M. Walters, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The relationship between art and illicit drugs has been a long and tumultuous one.  Van Gogh’s love affair with absinthe ultimately drove the painter mad, Jean-Michel Basquiat lost his battle with heroin, addiction helped transform Damien Hirst into the wealthy leader of new generation rock star artists.  Few artists, however, have used illicit drugs as their medium of expression.

La Rocque's Blow Job raises issues in sensational style in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
La Rocque’s Blow Job raises issues in sensational style in Ipanema, photo by Patrícia Kalil.

Fernando de La Rocque’s new exhibition changes that.  “Blow Job -Work of Blowing,” is a collection of groundbreaking paintings done with cannabis smoke.

Tonight’s (Wednesday, August 15th) opening, the result of a partnership between Artur Fidalgo Gallery and La Cucaracha in Ipanema, will be sensational, a response La Rocque is familiar with.

His previous projects, “Barata de Ouro” (Golden Cockroach) and a series of tiles called “Colonias” (“Colonies”) depicting colorful symmetric orgies, have earned the Carioca artist a reputation as an innovator willing to test the boundaries between right and wrong, good and bad.

“Blow Job” goes further in testing societal conventions. The title may turn heads, but it is the work that confirms La Rocque’s position as one of Rio’s most unique artistic voices.  And the voice is speaking loud on a subject that is being discussed at every level of society around the world: marijuana policy.

La Rocque’s exhibition opens during an interesting period in the pro-marijuana movement. Last week , a proposal that would basically legalize state-controlled marijuana was signed by Uruguayan President José Mujica and sent to  parliament for approval.

An interesting development in Latin America, where, in the shadow of brutal violence in Mexico, the discussion of decriminalization has become more frequent (especially in Brazil, where former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso speaks often in support of decriminalizing).

Fernando de La Rocque, Art in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
One of the paintings that will be on display starting August 15th, photo by Patrícia Kalil.

La Rocque, an advocate of legalization, does not shy away from the controversy. His stance is communicated through his work; “Blow Job” commands the attention of the public, then opens up a new dimension in the debate.

“You have to break some paradigms, this stereotype, this image of the so-called ‘stoner’.  It is the result of how opinion leaders, media, government and industry address the issue.”

The idea for painting with cannabis smoke has been in development for some time.  La Rocque has created a series of similar paintings with art’s long-time muse, wine.  The work with wine and cannabis are at the core of La Rocque artistic motivation: “I always like to create art with pleasure.”

In La Rocque’s work the focus on pleasure does not corrupt the validity of the message.  An artist painting with cannabis smoke could easily be dismissed as a novelty, a gimmick, if the issue was not so pervasive, if the rules that the work is challenging did not have such a broad impact on society.  But, in this case, they do.

To change the discussion not only takes focus and fortitude (which La Rocque has in abundance) but a keen talent that can draw public’s attention and then manage to keep the attention for more than a fleeting moment.

The importance is clear for La Rocque, who says: “more important than freedom to smoke marijuana is the freedom to think about it. Polemic issues divide opinions, forcing people to think and debate. Inertia is useless when we want to overcome something.”

Those in Rio should plan on joining the debate tonight, Wednesday, August 15th, at what will most certainly be a unique and thought-provoking event.

Where: La Cucaracha – Rua Teixeira de Melo 31H – Ipanema
When: August 15th (7PM) through September 22nd, 2012
Price: Free and open to the public


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